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How do human services agencies develop?

Even though a group forms with the intention of providing supports and services for people experiencing a defined cluster of problems or issues, a human services agency likely will not develop. For most service provision, an agency is neither appropriate nor needed. We can think of this basic delivery strategy as ad hoc service provision. This may happen somewhat spontaneously when a few concerned people see an individual or family is experiencing difficulty and struggling to manage. Everyone just pitches in and helps, contributing whatever resources and expertise they can bring to the specific circumstances.

More typically, though, ad hoc services delivery is seen within the context of a charitable, church-related, or social organization. Let’s briefly focus on this approach to services delivery.

Usually, there is a committee or other sub-group within the organization responsible for recommending the projects the organization pursues. This group decides to do something they have done before, are known for doing, or seems to the committee like something worth doing. In the current context, the proposed project is a set of activities or services they think will benefit people about whom they are concerned or for whom they have a special interest, e.g., children, elderly people, disadvantaged members of their organization, or any other group they think they should help.

The committee next takes the project proposal to the organization – the Authorizers – for approval. Organization approval then represents the auspices or authority needed to go ahead with the project. The project is pursued in the name of the organization. – The organization may be private or may be a governmental or other administrative body. – Additionally, the organization may contribute financial and other resources for the project, may encourage members who are not on the committee to help with the project, may let the committee use its facilities, and may provide other direct and indirect supports for the project.

Particularly within larger organizations, it is important to note the Authorizers likely have other competing and compelling demands on their capacity to authorize and on potentially available organizational resources. Their decision is thus based both on the merit of the project and on asking why they should authorize this project instead of another project or activity. There may also be other groups who want to pursue the same project or initiative. In this event, the Authorizers have to consider the project as well as the merit of authorizing one group of Initiators to proceed instead of another. Nonetheless, assume the project does receive the requested authorization.

The project starting as some people wanting to help some other people develops form and structure. Among other aspects, it transforms into a sub-component within the organization. The desire to help evolves into a structure with a core where most activity happens within and is dependent on the incorporating organization. The work of the committee – the project or services provision – emerges as a new, active aspect of a larger universe of interest. Even so, the project is not yet a human services agency and likely will never become one. It may come into existence, serve its intended purpose, deliver the expected services, and then go out of existence. Alternatively, other projects recur either on a regular basis, as needed, or as time and interest prompt.

There are multiple factors potentially eventuating in the steps changing voluntary, ad hoc services delivery into a semi-permanent services delivery entity. “Organizations that support and deliver human services vary in how much they are structured…. For example, a group of committed citizens may organize to provide services to people in need. In the process of organizing, they may develop a statement of purpose, rally the support of volunteers, and structure their services. They are technically an informal group but what happens when they decide to form a nonprofit corporation so they can receive funding from outside sources?  They may still have the same purpose and continue to use volunteers and structure their services the same way but they are no longer just a group. They are an organization.” (Netting & O’Connor, 2003, p. 7) Whether the organization exists within the corporate structure of a larger organization or is independently formed, it represents the type of organization the action model presented in this book addresses. The goal is to show the reader how to initiate, implement, and manage a provider organization intended to deliver human services to people who would otherwise not have the resources and supports they need to successfully cope with the needs, problems, and vulnerabilities that represent real jeopardy for them and their futures.

Let me pause to emphasize a simple truth. Help is only helpful if it helps. The best perspective from which to judge helpfulness is, in turn, through the eyes of the person being helped. “Simply put, human services is about facilitating clients’ efforts to grow and change while also effectively negotiating the service system in order to meet their needs.” (Harris, Maloney, & Rother, p. 24) As we consider the steps leading to the initiation and management of a human services agency, please do not lose focus on this simple truth. The point of developing a human services agency is to help people cope with the needs, problems, and vulnerabilities in their lives. Everything we do should further this outcome and nothing we do should interfere with achieving the outcome. With this truth clearly in mind, we examine – in Chapter One – the initiation of a human services agency using the Helping Triangle as our conceptual structure.

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